BSA Camp Big Heart 1920-1971

BSA Camp Big Heart

Gulf Breeze, Florida


 A Retrospective Of The Pensacola Naval Live Oak Reservation

Naval Live Oak Reserve

This building bears a striking resemblance to Camp Big Heart...

This building bears a striking resemblance to Camp Big Heart… Big Heart was 2 stories

  Many moons ago, before the first great depression, the President Of The United States bequeathed a land grant to the Boy Scouts Of America apportioning a section of the Naval Live Oak Reserve just outside of Gulf Breeze, Florida. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts built two summer camps, Camp Big Heart and Camp Isabella Ingraham. Big Heart was placed on a high bluff, overlooking Santa Rosa Sound and the barrier island. The building was constructed of thin slatboard and stood two stories high. Inside, the building was predominately a huge open room with high ceilings. A massive stone fireplace stood at the east end of the building, forming a large stone wall rising to the ceiling. Large wooden benches and tables stood in two rows on either side of the room. The building smelled, nostalgic….


A close facsimile of the interior of Camp Big Heart

A little history…

“What were some early uses of the Live Oak reservation on U.S. 98?

In the early 1920s, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America established camps in the Live Oak reservation. The Boy Scout camp – Camp Big Heart – was located near Santa Rosa Sound. The Girl Scout camp – Camp Isabella Ingraham – was east of the boys’ camp. In the 1950s, a Boy Scout camp for African Americans – Camp Sinton – was established on the Pensacola Bay side.

Camp Big Heart Patch

The first Boy Scout troop was established in Gulf Breeze in the early 1950s with Stan Hooper serving as Scout Master of Troop 11 sponsored by the United Methodist Church of Gulf Breeze. The first Eagle Scout in Gulf Breeze was Paul Villane. The second was David Villane, and the third was Jerome (Jerry) Lawson Duncan Jr.  When this area became a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Jan. 8, 1971, these camps were abolished.” -City Of Gulf Breeze

Even though the camps were “abolished”, Scout Troop 11 continued to meet at Big Heart throughout the 1970’s. As a matter of fact, I was a member of the last Troop 11 and attended the last Boy Scout meeting at the great Camp Big Heart. Another interesting connection is, Paul Villane -the first Eagle Scout in Gulf Breeze, was my football coach and a friend of the family. He was a member of the First Troop 11.

  One of our favorite pastimes while visiting Big Heart in those days was treasure hunting. The local folklore was rich with tales of missing Spanish Galleons laden with gold, lost while seeking safe harbor from storms. Or, buried pirate gold hoarded into the area prior to the 19th Century. Fact is, the area has been occupied by five different flags throughout the course of recent history. pensacola: The City Of Five FlagsPrior to that, well, we will get there shortly. On some weekends, the troop would arrange campouts at Big Heart and it’s surrounding woods. The live oaks towering with spiraling branches reaching skyward like majestic wooden candelabras, supporting magnificent drapes of Spanish moss. live oak 1live oak with spanish mossThe bluffs overlooking Santa Rosa Sound, bearing the thin, white line of the barrier island and beyond to the Gulf of Mexico. Rich hues of Aquamarine from the comforting shade of the oak trees was truly a heaven on Earth. The soft ocean breeze remained constant excepting dawn and dusk, hence, the name “Gulf Breeze”.  It was easy to see why, prior to the invention of air conditioning, this would be the chosen spot for the largest Boy Scout summer camp in the Southeast United States Of America. 

  While treasure hunting one afternoon, I came across a unique find. It was a clay pottery item in the shape of a bird. It looked ancient in design based on relics I’d seen uncovered and deemed so at the “Indian Temple Mound Museum” in nearby Fort Walton Beach.

From “Florida Anthropologist” Sep-Dec 1961,

 “The historic Navy Live Oak Reservation is unusually rich in archaeological and historical materials. Describing this area in 1883, S.T. Walker wrote (1885 p.859): ‘Immense beds of shell and the usual indications mark this as the former residence of a large population. The slopes of the hills are covered with irregular beds of shell from 2 to 6 feet in thickness which occupy an area of several acres.’”

 The giant Hickory trees nestled amongst the Live Oaks have their own unique history. According to the Florida Anthropologist,

“The area has a good stand of Live Oak and Hickory (Pig Nut) trees. It was this feature which caused the U.S. Government to acquire the reservation in 1828 when timbers of this kind were used in construction of ships at the Pensacola Navy Yard. (Note: The timbers currently in the hull of the famous frigate ‘Old Ironsides’ came from this location [Lazarus, 1951].)”

 USS Constitution


As one digs deeper, no pun intended, one finds archaeological expeditions have been fruitful since the 1800’s in uncovering an ancient, rich cultural history in this area dating back not hundreds, but thousands of years. -An awe-inspiring thought.

As I perused the Florida Anthropologist from the University Of Florida, a photograph entitled “Bird Head Effigy” was nearly identical to the one found all those years ago. The effigy uncovered by them was only a mere fragment compared to this one:

Pre-Columbian Relic 350l

Pre-Columbian Relic 2 350The conclusions of the Florida Anthropologist in 1961 were, the area was rich in artifacts from “The Debtford Culture” (800 BCE) to “Historic Times”.

From Wikipedia:

The Deptford culture (800 BCE—700 CE) was characterized by the appearance of elaborate ceremonial complexes, increasing social and political complexity, mound burial, permanent settlements, population growth, and an increasing reliance on cultigens. -end.

Or, The Hopewell Culture?

The Hopewell Culture had a blatantly similar bird motif-

The Hopewell Culture had a blatantly similar bird motif-

“Hopewell pottery is the ceramic tradition of the various local cultures involved in the Hopewell tradition (ca. 200 BCE to 400 CE) and are found as artifacts in archeological sites in the American Midwest and Southeast. The Hopewell were located around the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers during the Middle Woodland Period, and the Hopewell Interaction Sphere spanned from the Gulf of Mexico to Ontario, Canada.” -wikipedia  800px-Hopewell_Bird_Head_carved_on_Bone

Their art bears heavy Phoenician inffluence…

Hopewell Culture Artifact

Hopewell Culture Artifact

Phoenician bird artifact

Phoenician Culture artifact

What happened to them?

It appears that “Moore’s Raid” in 1704 and subsequent British slave expeditions from the Carolinas have generally been conceded as the death blow for pre-Columbian cultures from this region. However, a remnant of the Apalachee Indians did survive and escape to Mobile, Alabama. They later returned to the Pensacola area until 1763, when the British took over Florida. They were then moved by the Spanish to the Vera Cruz section of Mexico (Smith, 1956).

Naval Live Oak Area, Gulf Islands National Seashore

From The National Park Service:

The site of the marker was the first federal tree farm in the United States established by congressional resolution introduced by John Quincy Adams in 1828. Live oak (Quercus virginiana) was recognized as a superior wood for ship timbers. Widespread timber theft led to the need for a federally protected plantation.Naval LiveOaks Sign

The sign reads: This is the site of the first federal tree farm in the United States. Live oaks were once valued for their superior shipbuilding qualities. The U.S.S. Constellation and the U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides), both launched in 1797, were built of live oak (using c. 160 and 460 trees, respectively). Timber thefts led to congressional acts in 1817 and 1822 for the purpose of supplying timber for the United States Navy. These acts prohibited the sale of public lands containing live oaks. An 1826 report to the Secretary of the Navy claimed two million cubic feet of live oak had been stolen from the South Atlantic Coast, probably “consumed abroad.” This resulted in the Timber Trespass Act of 1827, authorizing penalties for timber theft and the establishment of a live oak plantation. In 1828, President John Q. Adams introduced a congressional resolution establishing this site for the plantation and appointed West Florida District Judge Henry Marle Brackenridge superintendent. Brackenridge studied live oak history and began growing live oaks here. Some 1,300 acres of the original live oak reservation are now preserved by the National Park Service as part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. –

In 1828, the United States purchased the land which comprises the present Naval Live Oaks Area, with the goal of reserving its valuable timber resources for ship building. President John Quincy Adams authorized the establishment of the first, and only, federal tree farm on this site, beginning operations January 18, 1829. Superintendent Henry Marie Brackenridge, who lived on the tree farm, experimented with cultivating the live oak tree. He was perhaps our country’s first federal forester. –

Being a student of history, I have relished the opportunity to have experienced Camp Big Heart at the Live Oak Reservation. A communal gathering spot for indigenous peoples to this area for thousands of years.


Live Oak 2


 Live Oak Reservation Sign



Ghost Ship


“Ghost Ship” on Pensacola Bay


From “The Daily News“ Pensacola, Florida, April 14, 1894;

“A Boston paper prints the following interesting item:

 In 1881, when C.H. Hill, now of the Brazilian navy, was on the Jeanette Relief Expedition to the Arctic regions, sent out by the government, his ship for a time was laid up at Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. While there he saw a derelict float in and strike the wharf. It was at once made fast, and proved to be loaded with yellow pine lumber. The vessel was literally covered with moss and barnacles, and investigation disclosed the fact that the name of the old craft, that for years by tide and winds had been driven hither and thither was the Jamestown.

 The inhabitants of the capital thought that a great prize had fallen into their hands, Everybody turned out and took a hand in unloading. The lumber came out in good condition, and the Reykjavikans estimated that there was enough of it to last them for 25 years. But, alas, what a world this is as a hope crusher! After the people had unloaded and piled the lumber, the Denmark government stepped in and confiscated it and started a lumber yard of its own. On return of the Jeanette expedition, Government made inquiry regarding the Jamestown, and learned that she was loaded in Pensacola, Fla. in 1865, soon after the close of the civil war. Thus, for 16 years the lumber laden vessel had floated as a derelict on the high seas.”

Credit: Pensacola News Journal, Nathan Woolsey & The Santa Rosa Historical Society, Inc.


 Seafaring Towns have always been rich in lore concerning ghost ship sightings. This being the case, it should come as no surprise that Pensacola, being one of America’s first settlements is steeped in tales of nautical myth -or truth

Fact is, not all ghost ships are visible apparitions. I have heard the sound of tightening rope, creaking wood and flapping cloth at night, at sea. Just beyond the throw of light, for extended periods of time one can call out, attempt a radio call, even shine a spotlight to no avail. It truly sounds as if a large wooden sailing ship is 40 or 50 yards away! The phenomenon also continues despite shining a light towards the area of the sounds.

 One of my favorite stories goes something like this…

 A group of Scuba divers goes out to old Fort McCrae at the Pensacola Pass across from Fort Pickens. The area is somewhat secluded and only accessible via boat. A long rock jetty runs out, off of the point of land, forming one side of the pass. The rocks forming the jetty provide an excellent fish and stone crab habitat. For years, groups of Scuba divers have camped out overnight at the fort and conducted night dives on the jetty. One particular evening, a squall began to blow just after dark. The divers gathered their gear off of the beach, pulled their boat up high onto the sand and retreated into the old fort for shelter.

The echo of the dark tunnels whistling from the increasing winds provided an eerie atmosphere for the group as they huddled in a large, concrete room located at the crumbling entrance. The sound of the waves increasing with the winds became the prevalent sounds from outside of the entrance to the fort. The group were trying to get comfortable after a few moments when they all heard what sounded like a huge wooden ship hitting the rocks of the jetty. Crashing sounds, cracking wood and what sounded like a faint scream rose to a crescendo with the wind and sea. Two of the divers grabbed a light and agreed to check it out. They ran out of the fort towards the point and both claim they saw what looked like two antique candle lanterns dimly glowing well out off of the point on the jetty, then disappearing in the storm. The wind was howling with lightning crackling. The rain heavy and blinding. They forged closer to the rock jetty when they claim they both heard the unmistakable sounds of large planks of wood moaning and cracking just as before.

They were sure a large wooden boat had hit the rocks as they searched with the spotlight from their own boat on the beach. However, the storm became too intense for them and they retreated to the fort. Just at dawn, the storm weakened enough for the group to try to help the people on the stranded boat so they made their way out to the point to survey the damage. As they drew closer to the jetty, there was no sign of any boat left. They ran out onto the rocks and still saw no sign of a wreck. Stunned, two of the divers donned their gear and submerged themselves in the Gulf Of Mexico. As they followed the jetty out deeper and deeper, they were shocked to find absolutely no sign of a wooden ship or boat. As they climbed the rock wall of the jetty towards the surface, one diver pulled a barnacle encrusted antique brass ship’s lantern from the rocks…

 Here’s some music complementary of



Geronimo: Sacred Spirit

  Very few names in history have been as infectous as the name “Geronimo”.  The endearing legacy of this man remains to this day. Having been immortalized for generations into the psyche from the traditional retelling of tales, to documented events of his time.  Of course, we must not forget the screaming of the man’s name at the top of your lungs while attempting daredevil stunts like jumping from high places. 
I’m sure most folks my age have similar memories. 
“Geronimo” was a name given to the warrior by his enemy.  His true name was:  (Mescalero-Chiricahua: Goyaałé [kòjàːɬɛ́] “one who yawns”; His Chiricahua name is often rendered as Goyathlay or Goyahkla in English.  Geronimo, born June 16, 1829 Died– February 17, 1909, was a prominent leader of the Bedonkohe Apache who fought against Mexico and the United States for their expansion into Apache tribal lands for several decades during the Apache Wars. “Geronimo” was the name given to him during a battle with Mexican soldiers.  -Wikipedia 
The  influence of Catholicism on the region may have been the reason Mexican Troops named this fierce warrior Geronimo. 
Geronimo is Italian for “Jerome”.   The definition of Jerome is “Sacred”. There are 20 variant forms of the name. Gerome, Geronimo, Gerrie, Gerry, Hierome, Hieronim, Hieronimus, Hieronymos, Hieronymus, Jairo, Jairome, Jeroen, Jeromo, Jeronimo, Jerrome, Jerron, Jerrone, and Jerry.  Catholic missionaries no doubt educated the Mexican people since the first Spanish conquest.  Enter “St. Geronimo”,
-Saint Francis de Geronimo (1642–1716), a Jesuit priest and missionary who was canonized by Gregory XVI in 1839. 

History records the warrior Geronimo led an almost charmed life in battle.  He escaped from prison on numerous occasions as well.  Hence, the name, “sacred”;
Definition: -1. Set apart by solemn religious ceremony; especially, in a good sense, made holy; set apart to religious use; consecrated; not profane or common. 

 When I was a child, I had the privilege of visiting Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island prior to the National Park Service reconstructon.  I remember the whole experience as surreal, like a trip back in time.  The long straight roadway leading to the extreme western end of the island where the Fort is located was partially covered by sandbanks.  The Fort itself and surrounding Batteries were half buried by mountainous sand dunes with crumbling brick walls.  I spent most of my time with my Grandfather in those days, another rare privilege.  My Grandfather was a great man.  He fought with the 71st infantry in WW2, later served as Gen. George S. Patton’s “radio man”, and later after the war worked for the General Accounting Office.

 Prior to our trip to the fort,  I was jumping from a rope swing off an old Live Oak tree into the bay when I first heard my grandfather exclaim, “GERONIMO”!!!  I came up from the water stunned having rarely EVER heard my Grandfather  yell or even raise his voice.  “Why did you yell ‘Geronimo’ at me?”, I asked cautiously.  He laughed and explained that U.S. Paratroopers used to shout the name for good luck prior to a jump.  Being the ever inquisitive “Why?” kid, I immediately asked what the meaning of the name ‘Geronimo’ was.
My Grandfather then explained that ‘Geronimo’ was a great Apache Chief and warrior who was greatly wronged in his life and led a fierce life as a result.  He embellished some things in relating them to me to a humerous point.  For instance, he told me that Geronimo could not be held captive for too long  throughout his life  based on his superhuman abilities.  “The strength of ten men and the ability to render himself invisible at will.” -That kind of stuff.    So, when my Grandfather looked at me and asked if I’d like to see where Geronimo was held while driving out to Fort Pickens, I was ecstatic! 

Geronimo At Fort Pickens 1886

We got out of the car onto a crushed shell parking area in front of a huge red brick wall. I remember getting the “Danger Will Robinson” vibe walking through the crumbling brick tunnels and archways.    My grandfather’s tone was solemn as he told me to “Stay close.” 

Fort Pickens Narrow Ammo Depot

 We emerged from the tunnel and stepped up into a large brick room through a crumbling wall.  “This was Geronimo’s cell.” my grandfather stated.  “They couldn’t keep him here though, he ripped that wall down with his bare hands.”  I was awed.  I stared up and down at the huge hole in the wall with piles of crumbling bricks and pictured the great Chief bashing through. 
I never forgot that day and often fantasized about the great Chief as I “battled” my best friend in the woods behind our homes. 

One day years later, after constant pestering of my Grandfather he conceded to take another trip out to Fort Pickens.   This time we brought  my friend.  As we got closer to the fort I noticed the roads were cleared and the walls were rebuilt with bright red brick.  A big brown sign read, “Welcome To Fort Pickens, National Park Service”.  Laminated tables with old photographs of the fort were now dotted about the area.  As we approached the fort, a Park Ranger informed us the tour would start shortly.  I remember being disappointed the fort had been cleaned and repaired.  The nostalgic surroundings and the sense of being the only people there for a long time piqued my adrenaline and curiosity I suppose.  As we walked along the tour, there were perhaps ten to fifteen people listening intently to the Ranger’s historical dissertation of each of the chosen “stops”.   When we reached the “Cell Of Geronimo” I was jumping out of my skin with excitement.  The Park Ranger began his talk about Geronimo while standing in the cell and referenced the wall with the huge hole.  The crumbled bricks had been removed and fresh bricks patched the upper part of the hole now. He said the hole had been created by an explosion and I immediately interrupted the ranger to correct him.
“Geronimo ripped that wall down with his bare hands!” I blurted.
“Isn’t that right Paw Paw?”  My Grandfather laughed with everyone in the room while turning 3 shades of red. 

         Pensacola Circa 1885

 After acquiring copies of “The Pensacolian” from 1886, I learned the true and greatly saddening story of Geronimo at Ft. Pickens. 

Geronimo, Naiche And Mangua At Fort Pickens 1886

(When the newspaper published this article, a decision already had been reached regarding the disposition of the Apaches. They were sent to Florida as scheduled, but the families were divided. The 15 warriors were to be sent to Fort Pickens; the 11 women, two scouts and six children to St. Augustine.)

From “The Pensacolian”:

Crowd Gathers  

The long awaited and much talked about arrival of the Apache Indians finally took place in Pensacola at 2 a.m. Monday, Oct. 25, 1886, after an accident at Rigolets detained the train for more than 24 hours. The two coaches containing the women and children were sent across Northwest Florida on the L&N Railroad, while those carrying Geronimo, Natchez, the chief of the band, and other Apaches were sent to the railroad wharf.  At Fort Pickens the Indians lived in two open casemates with fireplaces. They slept on cots and often hung netting in their quarters as protection from the mosquitoes. But the humid climate took its toll as they labored each day to clean up the old fort.

Geronimo On The Train To Pensacola

Daily Visitors

Geronimo became a great beggar and asked for anything that struck his fancy. Each day groups of visitors took an excursion boat across the bay to see him, and he often sold cigars. Besides entertaining visitors, Geronimo and some of the other Apaches were displayed in town, where they charged 25 cents for their pictures and autographs.

On Nov. 7, 1886, a reporter for the newspaper rode the sloop Frolic over to visit Geronimo. Inside the gates of the fort, he found two of the “savages” had their faces daubed with yellow and purple paint, which gave them sinister expressions.

According to the writer, “one of the soldiers at the fort gave a lady from Pensacola a good answer in relation to Geronimo to set down the sickly sentimentalism with which the average lady visitor seemed to view the red-headed assassins.”

When she appealed to the soldier asking “Can you tell me what is best for me to give Geronimo?” He replied, “Yes, Madam. The best thing you could give him would be an ounce of lead between his eyes.
-“The Pensacolian” 1886 

October 25, 1886, 15 Apache warriors arrived at Fort Pickens.
Geronimo and his warriors spent many days working hard labor at the fort in direct violation of the agreements made at Skeleton Canyon. Eventually the families of Geronimo’s band were returned to them at Fort Pickens, and then they all moved on to other places of incarceration. The city of Pensacola was sad to see Geronimo the tourist attraction leave. In one day he had over 459 visitors with an average of 20 a day during the duration of his captivity at Fort Pickens.

Unfortunately, Geronimo was ultimately Pensacola’s first “tourist trap”.  The man obviously hardly needed a cell being stranded at the tip of a lonely sand spit known as Fort Pickens. 

Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Pickens


Geronimo had nowhere to run, and finally no care to run, his land taken from his people.

Portrait Of Geronimo

From Geronimo’s Autobiography:

Geronimo His own story

A Prisoner of War
 When I had given up to the Government they put me on the Southern Pacific Railroad and took me to San Antonio, Texas, and held me to be tried by their laws.
 In forty days they took me from there to Fort Pickens, Florida. Here they put me to sawing up large logs. There were several other Apache warriors with me, and all of us had to work every day. For nearly two years we were kept at hard labor in this place and we did not see our families until May, 1887. This treatment was in direct violation of our treaty made at Skeleton Canyon.

From “Civil War Era Cemetaries”:
 -On April 28, 1887, Geronimo was reunited with his three wives and other members of his family. But on Sept. 28, Ga-ah, his second wife died. She was buried at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola.  Ga-Ah contracted pneumonia at Fort Pickens and died on September 28, 1887; she is buried in Section 18, Grave 1496.

 Geronimo was born in the upper Gila River country of Arizona. He came to maturity in the final years of Mexican rule of the region. His antagonism toward the Mexicans was as deep-rooted as it was understandable. In one fateful encounter, Mexican soldiers killed his mother, his wife, and his three small children. This tragic event steeled the young man for a long life of frequent conflict.

 Regardless of tragedies which beset Geronimo, from these tests of his will and character, it forged character and resilience. Let us learn from this.  To understand the truth however painful it may be sometimes, we are afforded an opportunity to gain strength from such knowledge.   Perseverance, determination, and focus has and always should be admirable qualities in a human being.  Geronimo was such a man.  A man who held true to his beliefs regardless of the changing world around him.  He died at the turn of the century, a man from a different era, a different time. 

Geronimo is buried at Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Geronimo’s Gravesite Ft. Sill, Oklahoma

Trader Jon’s Legendary Book

 An interesting note on Trader Jon-
Trader Jon was an effervescent personality with a huge heart cleverly disguised in a sometimes gruff exterior.  I had the privilege of meeting the man while performing for the bar in the 1980’s.  After my first set of music, I was called over to the bar by the man himself, and told to have a seat.  There were only a handful of folks seated  at the time, all “regulars”.  As I was sitting down, Trader hollered for the bartender to, “Get me my book”.  At this point I knew by the surprised expressions on the faces of the people present this was an uncommon occurrence.  The bartender returned with a modest-sized hardcover book and handed it to the old man.  “I want you to sign my book, son.” Trader said gruffly.  I can remember the smiles at the bar to this day. As he placed the book in front of me sitting on the stool next to me, I noticed his socks. He had these mismatched vintage argyle socks on with shorts. I opened the book and was immediately blown away by the signatures contained within.  JFK, John Wayne, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Neil Armstrong, Roy Scheider, they seemed endless.  Politicians, War Heroes, Sports Stars and….Musicians.  I was speechless, which -for me- was a new experience.  Stunned, I think I said something like, “Me?, Really???” He just smiled at me and pointed out the folks he wanted me to be aware of which had signed. He talked about those signatures and their order chronologically, who came in with whom and stuff like that.  The odd thing for me was, being a long-haired musician/songwriter who at the time was somewhat skittish about my path and life choice, had felt so warmed and welcomed by this man.  As I signed the book, a lady at the bar asked, “Do you know what an honor this is?” -Again, speechless… 
Thank you Trader, for giving me the confidence to continue my work.

Tommy Kennedy